One of the two most recent releases on caduc., with Coppice’s newest also to be reviewed here soon. So named after the French inventor who in addition to almost inventing subtractive photography, almost invented the phonograph.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should first point out that I am acquainted with both Joda Clément and Mathieu Ruhlmann through their work here in Vancouver and in this collective. To disavow what the reader may find to be a ostensible bias, l should admit that some of both Austin Olsen’s and Ruhlmann’s previous works (the latter’s This Star Teaches Bending being one of several notable exceptions) have left me a bit wanting, while Joda has an absurd obsession with dub and reggae which very clearly defies all reason.
Part of the criticism of the former was the result of a common linearity of structure and dynamics. Sometimes this approach lends itself well to an exploration of complex sounds, but it can also eventually come across as overly conservative or even mundane. However, a few minutes into the opening track on A Concert for Charles Cros we are introduced to some minimal but highly effective editing that splices that linearity up in beautifully subtle fashion. At one point the attacks of an analogue synthesizer and bowed cymbal cut abruptly to the delayed decay of an amplified object, while at various times the pink noise of a heavily amplified condenser microphone fades in and out with little other sonic content to explain its presence. Through it all is a practiced timbral balance of amplified acoustics and analogue glitches; the improvisational rapport of the previously aqcuainted trio of Clément, Austin Olsen and Ruhlmann being strongly evident.
Though the pace of the opening track is rhythmic with ebbing and flowing gain, periodic taped vocal samples contribute to the memorability of the otherwise more monolithic sections – a characteristic shared on ‘An insect tests the circle of light’. From partway through that second track, the album has increasingly frequent harmonic sections; unsurprising given that a guitar, trainer guitar and ukelin all make appearances. Given this tonal approachability and the shorter track lengths of the latter half of the work, the sharper contrasts in dynamic range and amplitude work together to form almost song-like structures. Again, the indistinct but recognizable mixing of separate temporal and sonic regions of the original recordings makes for an engaging listen.
That these edits were allowed, even encouraged, to contribute to the production itself is a welcome and very effective counterbalance to the purity of the improvised form that most of these artists otherwise often practice. The form finds further permutation in the very source of its materials. The trio of Clément, Austin Olsen and Ruhlmann actually improvised to the live playback of Jones’s contributions which they were then hearing for the first time. This strange method of assembly is surely partly responsible for the differences in recording style and quality between separate sound sources. In addition to that sonic tension, there is a structural one – implied through the arrangement of the works and made more evident by revelation of the recording technique.
While standard improvisation by necessity results in a sort of consensus (happy or otherwise), A Concert For Charles Cros is instead (or in addition) the assembly of distinct and only partially interacting hierarchies. The solitary improvisation by Jones was unaffected by the trio’s improvisation, who then had to grapple with its immutability in their own calls and responses, while the final summing of the parts was under the purview of Ruhlmann’s editing room. The use of Jones’s output in an acousmatic fashion alongside the trio’s live production, and the purposeful and unavoidable aesthetic manifestations that result, seems to nod to Charles Cros’s early and flawed efforts towards the technologies of audio and visual reproductions whereby the media were similarly assembled out of, and affected by, their disparate parts. While the resulting hybrid shares practical and theoretical characteristics with in-situ performance, field recording, electroacoustic improvisation and studio composition, the shifting incongruities between each across the work make for a worthwhile listen.
Recommended, and available soon directly with the obligatory bookmark from caduc..
For more information on the cutely nightmarish ram and associated artwork (I personally both respectfully fear and passionately loathe sheep thanks to months of farm work in New Zealand), head to David Ruhlmann’s site.